The Center of the Maze
Happiness is not a journey upward but a journey inward. The answers lie not at the top of a ladder but in the center of the maze.
After years of running from everything that I had ever felt, there came a day when I could no longer pretend that my life was making me happy. It was plain as day that for a long time I had been chasing someone else’s dreams and the reasons I had given myself as justifications for doing so, were no longer holding up. Facing this truth was painful and gut wrenching, and was only possible after I had spent a lot of time processing and properly grieving the loss of the life I thought I had.
Before I started processing my unresolved feelings, I assumed it would look like me talking about what was wrong with the world and how I could fix it all by gathering more power and agency, ie. expanding my outer world. But to my surprise, it actually turned out that processing meant going deeper and deeper inside my own psyche in order to accept the world for what it is and try and change the frame through which I look at things, ie. exploring my inner world.
As I processed layer upon layer of incorrect beliefs and unresolved tensions, I started to come across long forgotten ideas and thoughts that were buried deep inside my brain. Ideas that little me had had about what I wanted out of life, what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. It felt like I was starting to uncover a maze of interconnected thoughts and feelings, with some well-defined paths that had emerged over the years, and some other paths that led to dead ends. Some of these paths were familiar to me but many of them had remained unexplored. I could feel the magic of the maze lying dormant, simmering just below the surface, patiently waiting for me to let it out.
Along with these wonderful forgotten hopes and dreams, I found something that I was not expecting. I found that inside me lived a lot of fear and hurt and pain. Remnants of the trauma I had suffered all throughout my childhood; scars that I didn’t even know existed.
I think a part of me always knew that there was all this suffering inside me but the thought of confronting it had always made me really uncomfortable. So for many years I ran as fast as I could to try and get as far away from it as possible, climbed and climbed the ladder of success till there was nothing else at the top. At the time if you had asked me why I was doing it, I would have said that I was running towards my dreams. In reality, I think I was running away from my fears.
After years of hard work and careful avoidance of my true feelings I finally got the success I so longed for, but along with it came the crushing realization that all my problems had followed me to the top of the ladder. In fact, now that I had nothing left to hide behind and no excuses I could use to procrastinate, I had no choice but to face my fears and work to resolve them.
So I decided that I wouldn’t ignore my pain any longer. I set out on a quest to explore my inner maze, to try and find the cause of all this suffering, and hopefully to try and heal it. In order to do so I needed to find my way to the center of the maze, which turned out to be much more difficult than I’d anticipated. It took a lot of patience, directing love at myself and unravelling self-destructive patterns that I had developed over the years, until I was finally able to reach the center.
When I got there I was surprised to find that the pain and suffering inside me was not being created by some elusive, mythological creature who sometimes haunted my dreams. Rather it turned out to be a little version of me manifesting itself in the shape of a wounded animal, lying all alone in the center of my maze. She was holding so much pain inside her that all she could do was lie in the fetal position and tremble with fear. Her skin was burned all over from wounds she had suffered throughout her life and her voice was small and quiet. She was barely alive, hanging on by a thread, and all this time I had no idea she even existed.
Until this point in my life I hadn’t realized how much of my world was controlled by the little wounded animal at the center of my maze. She had always been very adept at distracting me at just the right moments, to keep me from figuring out who she was and where she lived. In fact, even as I’m writing this now I can feel the very forces I’m writing about fighting me as I’m trying to write about them. Each time I got close to finding the answers, she would change the makeup of the maze to make herself more obscure. She was so afraid and so hurt that she never wanted to be found. However with tremendous effort and humility and acceptance, I was able to reach her.
At first even looking at her was too painful. It took me a few trips to the center of the maze and back again before either she or I felt relatively comfortable in the presence of the other. Then I tried tentatively approaching her, reaching my hand out as slowly as I could. When I touched her it felt like a little shock wave ran through my body, urging me to destroy everything around me so that I wouldn’t be the only one who felt so lost and alone. Destruction is all she had ever known. But try as she might she couldn’t destroy herself because her survival instinct stopped it.
So here we were, current me and little me finally holding hands after years of trying to make our way back to each other, passing all the knowledge that we had gathered over the years through felt touch. At first it was all I could do to not get sucked in and self-destruct in the process of getting to know her. She was in so much pain that I didn’t know how to give her love. It took all the courage and strength inside me to try and process instead of destroy, to try and create love where once there was nothing.
Learning how to heal meant learning how to love myself. I needed to give my little wounded animal the love that she never got from anywhere else. I needed to learn to protect her and listen to her and nurture her until she started to feel alive again.
As with many things it was difficult to get started, but once we got the ball rolling it was much easier to keep it going. The first step was learning how to listen to my intuition. Intuition is the really quiet voice that travels from the center of your maze all the way to the forefront of your conscious mind. When in doubt I know I can always trust her because she always says exactly what she thinks. But after years of being dismissed and ignored she had lost hope that her voice would ever be heard. So that was the first thing I decided to change, listen to my intuition and follow through on what she says no matter how difficult it might seem. That was the only way hone my ability to execute on her chosen path of action. It was the only way I could show her that she could trust me because I wouldn’t try to destroy her or lead her astray.
The next step was learning how to build boundaries.
Neither she nor I had much experience with this because all the trauma we went through had annihilated our self-defense mechanisms and taught us to act against our own instincts. To top it off we had internalized the narrative that having boundaries was *selfish of us* and for years that had prevented us from building them, even and especially when it was in our own interest to do so.
But little wounded me needed space and time to heal. So I needed to build her a peaceful and quiet space where she could do this.
I think of boundaries as concentric circles around my deepest thoughts. The innermost circle rarely contains anyone but me. It’s where I retreat to when I want to feel safe and when I want to relieve myself of the cares of the world. I go to this space when I want to write, or when I feel overwhelmed or afraid. Because in here I feel like nothing can hurt me and I can say, do and think whatever I want. This is wonderful because it gives me free rein to explore and create without fear of rejection, repercussion or judgement. Here I can make as many mistakes as I like and all I’ll ever receive is love.
It took a lot of processing my feelings around trauma to even be able to create this boundary. For a start I needed to separate my own thoughts from the echos of other peoples’ thoughts. At first I had no idea how to tell the difference between them but my expedition around my inner maze taught me to weed out the voices that were not my own. I knew how to spot them because they would feel like they were coming from outside the maze, like they were floating around in the air. Whereas I felt my own voice of intuition and reason always emanating from the center of the maze.
Once I was able to tell the difference between when I was hearing my own voice and when I was hearing other peoples’ voices inside my head, I knew I was ready to create the first layer of my boundary. I decided that not all the voices in my head would have access to this space because this needed to be the ultimate protective cocoon within which I would always feel safe. From now on anyone who wanted access to my innermost world would have to earn it, rather than be given it simply because they happened to be a part of my childhood by some accident of fate.
The next layer of my boundary was reserved for close friends and people whose opinion I respected. They had a say in some important matters and would be consulted occasionally but they did not have a front row seat to my life. I think of their contribution to my psyche as suggestions that I may implement if it suits me, but I never feel the need to explain myself to them or do what they say simply because they’re the ones who’re asking.
Everyone else lives outside these two layers and they have no say in my life because they have no context and have not built enough trust for me to let them in any further.
Fundamentally, these boundaries are there to protect me because it’s time for me to stop being naive about the fact that everyone out there has my best interests at heart. So I have built my boundaries to be very resilient. Crucially however, these boundaries are also very flexible. So if someone does indeed show me that they’re able to support me in the way I need and has thoughtful and useful contributions to make to my life, I am completely amenable to letting them in. But I am also learning how to be realistic and knowing that just because I let someone in once doesn’t mean they get to stay forever. Access to my inner world is a privilege not a right, and I will not be shy when it comes time to revoke that privilege if I feel like it’s being abused or violated.
Building boundaries that you’re comfortable with, creating a space inside your mind that you can retreat to anytime you want to feel safe and loved, is the key to maintaining a healed sense of self in the long term. Clearly expressing and consistently enforcing boundaries is an ongoing task that will continue for as long as we are alive. In here I can do what I think and say what I feel and practicing these skills in a safe space has helped me to start implementing them outside of my mind as well.
I created these boundaries because they were necessary to protect my wounds and keep them from being reopened. Now I am learning that boundaries are the backbone of all healthy relationships. They are not an indulgence but rather a necessity. They help you detect intrusion and keep your inner child safe from harm. Investing time and effort in shoring up my boundaries has allowed me to feel immense creative freedom because now I don’t feel the need to hide anymore. Now I have armor that will protect me, so I no longer need to keep myself locked away in a fortress that was stifling me. I can wear my heart on my sleeve yet have it be protected by a coat of steel, so I need no longer be afraid of experiencing something real.
Set up a permeable membrane that nothing comes through,
to protect the little hurt child inside of you.
She needs your trust and love and care,
and to know that you’ll protect her from all the dangers out there.
She wants you to hold her hand and tell her that she’s right,
and tell her that she can trust her own insight.
She’s smart and she’s strong,
and saying that doesn’t make her arrogant or wrong.
Her feelings are valid even if they’re based on reasons you don’t understand,
simply because she’s human and her mind is her wonderland.
She needs her space and she needs her privacy,
to develop into a full human with healthy boundaries.
You can’t violate them and teach her to question herself,
then expect her to be there when you need help.
Because she’s going to heal and she’s going to grow,
despite all your efforts to thwart her flow.
She’ll blossom and bloom and become a shining moon,
a bright light in the darkness, with a solid iron core,
capable of creating waves that will shake the entire earth’s floor.
Her life is far from over,
no matter how much you try to control her.
When she learns how powerful she is,
for you it will be game over.
— me :)